In America, during the 1800s, gun making was something of a family affair. It was a specialized blacksmithing skill passed down from father to son throughout the generations. Not surprisingly, a number of gunsmiths have found their way onto our family tree.
It seems to have begun with Hans Jacob Honaker, my brother-in-law’s 4th great-grandfather, who immigrated from Switzerland and eventually settled in Wythe, Virginia. There are rifles attributed to his hand that date back to Revolutionary War period. He apparently taught his son, Abraham, who in turn taught own his sons the trade craft. At one point in time there were eight gunsmiths named Honaker actively working in and around Wythe.
Their specialty, especially in the 1800s, was the cap and ball long rifle, familiarly known as a Pennsylvania Long Rifle but later renamed the Kentucky Long Rifle after Daniel Boone favored them as his hunting firearm of choice.
The Honaker Rifle was known for its excellent carving and intricate work. James A. Honaker, Hans’ grandson, would often engrave his name or initials as well as the manufacture date on the barrel of the rifle by applying a soap plate to the barrel; carving his name into the soap and then pouring acid into the carving. The acid would eat through the soft soap and then etch his name onto the barrel.
The Honaker rifle is highly prized by collectors and some will occasionally appear at auctions where they are sure to attract considerable attention.
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